The downside of camping in a beach car park is that you either have to be awake and gone by the time the metre starts, or awake and have put money into said metre before it starts. Either way, we had to be up before 8am by our own choice for a change.It’s not all bad I suppose… It gave us a chance to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic.
Sadly, a cloud shielded the full beauty of the moment, but it was still a nice site nevertheless.It had been a while since we were up so early. We had cleaned and packed everything away the night before, so we were able to flee to car park easily before the 8am deadline. Already the day seemed dauntingly long in comparison to normal.We made a beeline for the islands lighthouse for an obligatory van photo.
I always forget that we have Steve in moments like these. So instead of HD quality circling footage of Ruby and the lighthouse, I am left with just a bog standard picture from my Samsung. I must make a mental note to up my Steve game!With Halloween approaching, Willow had purchased tickets from Groupon for us to go on a ghost/history tour around Asheville. The tour didn’t start until early evening, and so we were left with a whole day with no plans. One thing that was definitely noticeable, was that we had left behind the cold damp weather of Asheville and were now basking in a +30°c heatwave.With our tans washed away in the last two weeks of wet mountain regions, we decided that we had probably earned a beach day. We both downloaded new books to read on our Kindles, and I had over two weeks of blog writing to catch up on.So we spent much of the early day reading books and I attempted to make a dent in my outstanding blog posts.Although we were there early, the day just seemed to slip away. I frequently popped back to the van to make sure that Aimee was comfortable. We even gave her a chance to stretch her legs using her newly acquired harness.
Strangely, I had recently started speaking to a couple of Instagram who go by the name of @thelillslife. They had recently completed a 2 year journey in their own VW, with a cat and a dog, and apparently they were based in Savannah. For such a big world, it can be very small at times!In the afternoon, there was a farmer’s/artisan market back at the lighthouse we visited earlier on in the day. We had decided to pop there before heading to our tour in Savannah. The @lillslife had said that they would try to meet us if they were able to.Pulling into the car park for the small market, we were once again greeted by the now familiar event of stares from everyone. Getting out from the van, we were greeted by who I believe was @lillslife’s dad, who informed us that unfortunately they couldn’t make it to the market. After a quick chat and a picture, he informed us that he and his wife had a tortilla chip and dip stand and that we should pop over when we had a chance.
We worked our way around the variety of small craft stalls to the tortilla and dip stand. We skipped lunch whilst we were on the beach so we were both ravenous at this point, and so we were very happy to sample the tasters.
I’ve got to admit, these were the best tortilla chips I have ever tasted! I definitely need the recipe (or maybe we could work out a swap for blog publicity??)I could have stayed and sampled the food all night, but we had our tour to get to. Thankfully, we left with a free bag of nachos and a jar of their delicious bean dip to help keep us going on the road.
As it happened, Willow hadn’t booked a tour for Savannah, which was just up the road. She hadn’t checked the details closely enough and so booked a tour in a town called Bluffton, an hour’s drive from where we currently were. So we left Tybee Island now heading for our new destination.
As you can imagine, we left in quite a hurry, as the tour was due to begin at 6pm, and the sat nav predicted that we would arrive at 6:05pm.
Pulling up to the post code from Groupon at 6:04pm, our initial concern was,
“where is it?”
There was no visible signs or groups on the roadside, so we parked up in the local park and hit the street in a desperate attempt to locate the tour before it left without us.
After ten minutes of searching, we were starting to give up hope of finding the tour at all. It was at this point that Willow said, “Oops!”
When I asked her what was wrong, replied sheepishly,
“I’ve made a bit of a mistake.”
It turned out not only had Willow booked a tour for the wrong town, but she hadn’t read the days that the tour was available on. So we were in the right spot… Just not on the right day. As you can imagine I played the part of the supportive partner perfectly and I have made no reference to the incidence since… Well maybe once or twice…a day.
With no hope of a ghost tour, we turned around and drove all the way back to Savannah. We fancied a night in the old district, with cheap beer, live entertainment and WiFi.
The drive back was far more relaxed and we were able to appreciate the setting sun over the marsh lands.
Back in Savannah sooner than we planned, we parked up and walked along the cobbled road of what looked to be one of Savannah’s earliest business sectors, that had now been turned into a bar strip.
We managed to find a reasonably priced bar and for once we actually managed to mingle into the background to use the WiFi, whilst picking at some deep fried Mac n cheese.
When we had once again had enough of staring at our screens, we set back to the bus, arriving to find that Aimee had kept herself occupied in our absence.
Not fancying sleeping in a car park in Savannah’s answer to Broad Street, we moved Ruby to a nearby Walmart and enjoyed a restful night, away from the drunken antics of Savannah’s tourist strip.
In the morning, we spent the first part of the day playing with Aimee on her lead, as she had been deprived of attention the night before.
Willow felt that there was too much play in the steering and so she wanted to spend the rest of the morning working on the bus. Not wanting to have her do all of the repair work the entire trip, and with a genuine interest in the van, she taught me how to get to and adjust the wheel bearings, which although it was a small easy job, it was still nice to continue to develop my limited understanding of cars.
With the van sorted, we moved on from Savannah, Florida now firmly in our sights.
The drive from Savannah turned out to be one of the scariest drives I have ever done.The heavens had decided to open and it began ‘chucking it down’, and so we had to drive through some of the heaviest rain I had ever driven through. People were pulling into the layby because it was impossible to see more than a couple of feet in front of you. Now we’re both mixture of stubborn and stupid, and so we really didn’t want to stop and lose time, so I kept close to a slow moving truck and focused on not killing us all, whilst Willow frantically kept wiping the condensation from off of the windscreen.
On the way, we passed a collision that we must have missed by just minutes. At this point, we were both secretly hoping we would avoid anything similar. VWs were not built with safety in mind. They have no crumple zone at the front. Nor any airbags! It was quite frightening how bad the visibility actually was, but we kept creeping along, and eventually to our relief, the torrential downpour subsided.
We spent that night just under an hour’s drive from St Augustine, in a place named Twelve Mile swamp conservation area. We could definitely feel a change in weather compared to our time in the US so far. Both of struggling to adapt to the harsh 93% Florida humidity.
Although a passing car stopped to warn us that the site owner might move us on, we spent a sweaty night undisturbed.The next day we made our way to St Augustine, supposedly the oldest colonial city in America. We parked up at the San Sebastian winery, our plan was to tour St Augustine, and then complete the free wine tasting tour at the winery, before heading to the distillery for a free tasting tour there also. Something told me I was going to enjoy St Augustine!
St Augustine was first inhabited by Spanish settlers, and much of the cities architecture is inspired by Spain.
We made our way through the gorgeous city, admiring the decorative styles that reminded me of my time in Spain. We stopped of at a bridge named ‘The Bridge of Lions’ for a picture of the harbour.
From the bridge we walked to the ancient Fort Castillo de San Marcos. We were hoping to walk around the fort, but we put off by the $15 entrance fee. Neither of us felt the need to blow our budget on a small tour, so we made do with a walk around the fort’s perimeter, which suited us just fine.
Still struggling to the harsh heat of our new surroundings, we seeked shelter in a nearby bar, instantly relieved once we felt the cool breeze of the bars air con.
Feeling refreshed, we continued our tour of the city and set off in search of the Fountain of Youth. Just like the early explorers, our walk to the fountain would turn out to be just as complicated.
Enroute, Willow spotted a giant cross that she wanted to get up close to so that she could grab some artsy pictures.After making a short diversion, we ended at the bottom of a dead end road to find that the cross was on private property surrounded by high fencing. So disappointed and without her pictures, we retraced our steps back towards the fountain. It was around this point where we started to regret not using our bikes to get around the residential part of town.
Finally arriving at the fountain, we were saddened to see that it had now been made into a tourist attraction that you had to pay $18 to see. Even though we had walked for ages in the blistering heat to get there, we were both to stubborn to part with $36 to look at a fountain. So once again we left, bitterly disappointed and hot. At least we still had free wine and whiskey tasting to come.
Back at Ruby, we checked to make sure Aimee hadn’t completely melted. She hadn’t! We were parked in a nice bit of shade and had popped the roof to allow what little breeze there was into the van.Content with what we saw (and didn’t), it was time to enjoy some of the free experiences St Augustine had to offer.
Starting with the San Sebastian winery. The wine tour was actually just a wine tasting. I say just, but to me that was ideal.We sampled 8 wines, including a sherry and a port. The tasting started with a dry white and red. I must admit, after our visit to the Three Brothers vineyard in Senaco, I was wary about how dry their wines would actually be, and so I was pleasantly surprised when they actually turned out to be the nicest wine I had sampled so far in the States.The wines then started to become sweeter, and although they were pleasant enough, they weren’t as delicious as the first two wines we sampled.We finished the tasting with a sherry and a port, both again surprisingly tasty. So much so that upon leaving, we were torn which one to buy, ending up buying neither, opting for a bourbon aged port instead, mainly because it had a funky bottle!After we had finished paying, we made sure the staff were happy for us to stay in the car park and then headed a couple of minutes down the road to the St Augustine Distillery Company for the next free tour and tasting.We had just missed a tour, so we waited twenty minutes for the next tour and read up on the history of the site.
The distillery was set in an old ice and power factory, built in the early 1900’s. It was fascinating to read about how important ice was before refrigerators were invented. I hadn’t really considered how reliant you are for cold in hot places, I am normally trying to get rid of the damn stuff.We were shown around the small factory by a friendly guy who seemed a bit nervous and was occasionally stuttering his lines. It was only at the end of the tour that we learnt that we were his first tour group.
It wasn’t a large site and so it wasn’t long before we were sampling the products. I’ve got to be honest, I am not really a fan of bourbon whiskey. I would much rather sip on a single malt, even better if it is a peaty whiskey; so I was a little bit underwhelmed by there trio of cocktails on offer. But like the trooper that I am, I drank them all and thanked them for the experience.
Back at the van, we let Aimee out on her lead again as we would later be heading out into the town.
As the winery closed, we were first visited by Jack, one of the guys who served us earlier. He told us about his own trips up north with his wife and his motorbike.
After Jack left, we were visited by Alex. Alex told us about his own car passion, showing us pictures of his car projects.
With the sleeping arrangements sorted for the night, we left Aimee in the van and headed back out to see what St Augustine’s nightlife had to offer.The central strip was an interesting collection of European style bars, restaurants and shops, and walking around it brought back memories of childhood holidays in places like Majorca.We settled upon a bar with wooden interior and a that once upon a time was an old water mill.
From here, our night really picked up, as we continued our evening stroll and were eventually captivated by the sound of rock’n’roll pouring out of a bar named Trade Winds.We ended up spending the rest of our evening here, rocking out to the awesome house band ‘Down Low’. They topped the night off with a rendition of Crazy Train by Ozzy for us being from Birmingham!
The following morning we packed up and were once again on the road. It was halloween and we were excited to be heading to Orlando. Halloween had been much discussed over the last couple of weeks. Halloween is a BIG deal over in the States. We have been driving past houses decorated for halloween as early as September; and so we would only get one shot at having a memorable experience. That’s a lot of pressure!
We agreed that we would hit Orlando for halloween, as there would be a high probability that we would find an intriguing place to visit.
We also had other requirements from Orlando other than halloween entertainment. Whilst we were attempting to refuel the van, we had a problem getting the filler cap out of the van. The key seemed to be turning, however the catches holding the cap into the Ruby were not fully releasing. After five minutes of poking at it with a screw driver, Willow hacked it apart and yanked it out with some pliers. So now we were back to where we were in September, driving around with some duct tape over the filler neck. Now I was really cross with myself for leaving the old cap in Hershey!
Fortunately, Willow had located a VW just outside of Orlando, so if we were lucky, we would be able to pick up a filler cap and that pesky bushing that still alluded us.
As it turned out, the garage didn’t have the part, but he recommended us to another VW garage still enroute to Orlando, so we drove there…It was shut.
Checking on my phone, I found another VW garage, still enroute to Orlando, surely we would find one at the point?
Once agin, we left this garage empty handed, but he had phoned a friend who confirmed that he had the bushing, and could have the replacement filler cap the next day. Excited, we put our foot down and speed urgently to pay for the order before he closed.
We arrived at the shop and ordered a new cap, but opted again the bushing. It came as a full linkage set for over $20, and the small plastic bushing we needed should cost no more than a few dollars. At least we could fill our van now without petrol blowing out of the tank down the interstate.
We had been interested in going to Universal Studios for their halloween fright night. I mean if anyone is going to put on a killer haunted house, it was going to be Universal. Tickets were $70 however, and did not include access to the rides, which we wanted to see whilst we were in town. So I found a cheaper fright night event called Dark Horizons. It was under half the price and had great reviews on Groupon.
Halloween plans sorted, we rocked up to old faithful’s car park and rode our bikes to the event, neither of us wanting to waste $20 on event parking when we had a Walmart that was free and 11 minutes away by bike.
The bike ride wasn’t ideal, as part of it lead us down a major road, but we arrived at the event without incident.
Dark Horizons was being hosted in a section of a Holiday Inn, and as we approached the entrance in the corner of the main car park, we were greeted by dry ice, eerie green lighting and sinister music. Not a bad way to kick things off.
The event had three separate zones to walk through, each full of actors ready to jump out on you at anytime.
To kick things off, we got ourselves a beer, for a staggering $8 a drink. We decided that sometimes we would have to loosen our purse strings a bit or we would never truly enjoy ourselves. It did also give us a chance to watch a selection of mesmerising aerial acrobatics, performed by people who clearly had more athleticism in their fingers than I had in my entire body!
We spent the rest of the night jumping out of our skins, walking through cleverly designed themed areas, which varied from haunted pirate ships, to small towns run by a deranged manic.
Eventually it was time to make our way back down the scary America highway (on our bikes), glad that we found a reasonably priced American halloween experience.